Racial jus­tice ad­vo­cate says to keep talk­ing about the is­sues

Au­thor, ac­tivist Iyer dis­cusses racial equal­ity at Wal­dorf West Li­brary

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By TIF­FANY WAT­SON twat­son@somd­news.com

Kitchen ta­ble con­ver­sa­tions of late have fo­cused on racial is­sues: whose life mat­ters more, whose life is be­ing de­val­ued. Au­thor Deepa Iyer said she wants lo­cal res­i­dents to con­tinue hav­ing those tough talks about equal­ity, dis­crim­i­na­tion and racism in hopes of en­cour­ag­ing a pos­i­tive change in lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties.

On July 12, the Wal­dorf West

Li­brary hosted a dis­cus­sion for adults to share dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives about racism in the United States. Lo­cal res­i­dents gath­ered to hear guest speaker Iyer dis­cuss so­cial in­clu­sion with an em­pha­sis on how to have a di­a­logue about racial equal­ity in an in­di­vid­ual’s own com­mu­nity.

“I love speak­ing at pub­lic li­braries be­cause they are crit­i­cal spa­ces for bring­ing di­verse com­mu­ni­ties to­gether to have frank and hon­est con­ver­sa­tions,” Iyer said. “The events that have hap­pened in our na­tion this month have taught us that we need to have more con­ver­sa­tions about so­cial in­jus­tice in the United States. Talk­ing about th­ese is­sues gives me hope, and I want this to be a tool­kit or guide post for us to take ac­tion.”

“We Too Sing Amer­ica: South Asian, Arab, Mus­lim, and Sikh Im­mi­grants Shape Our Mul­tira­cial Fu­ture” by Iyer, a na­tion­ally-renowned racial jus­tice ad­vo­cate, was pub­lished in Novem­ber 2015. The book shines a light on an un­ex­plored con­se­quence of mod­ern-day ter­ror­ism and the on­go­ing, state-sanc­tioned per­se­cu­tion of Amer­i­can mi­nori­ties.

“The book fo­cuses on young peo­ple who are deal­ing with racial is­sues in their daily lives,” Iyer said. “I wrote this book to re­mind ev­ery­one that th­ese kinds of racial is­sues are hap­pen­ing time and again. It is a daily phe­nom­e­non for many of the char­ac­ters in the book.”

Iyer is orig­i­nally from In­dia and moved to Ken­tucky when she was 12. She cur­rently lives in Sil­ver Spring and is the chair­woman of the board of di­rec­tors of Race For­ward, as well as se­nior fel­low at the Cen­ter for So­cial In­clu­sion. She is also a pro­fes­sor at Univer­sity of Mary­land Col­lege Park, and an at­tor­ney who has worked on civil and im­mi­grant rights is­sues in the non­profit and gov­ern­ment sec­tors for 15 years.

Most re­cently, Iyer served as ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing To­gether (SAALT) for a decade, and served as chair­woman of the Na­tional Coali­tion of Asian Pa­cific Amer­i­cans (NCAPA).

Iyer filled the gaps on what it means to live in a post-9/11 Amer­ica where back­lash on im­mi­gra­tion re­form and anti-black racism have ap­peared in com­mu­ni­ties and the me­dia. Af­ter pro­vid­ing anal­y­sis and com­men­tary on ways to build racial eq­uity and sol­i­dar­ity in Amer­ica, Iyer read an ex­cerpt from her book and gave the au­di­ence ex­am­ples about how to use di­a­logue, ac­tion and com­pas­sion to ad­dress the is­sues hap­pen­ing in ar­eas such as Or­lando, Min­neapo­lis, Dal­las and Bal­ti­more.

Sarah Guy, Charles County Pub­lic Li­brary pro­gram co­or­di­na­tor, and Janet Salazar, di­rec­tor of the Charles County Pub­lic Li­brary, ex­pressed ap­pre­ci­a­tion for Iyer trav­el­ing from Sil­ver Spring just to share her in­sight with Charles County res­i­dents.

“I started plan­ning a pro­gram sim­i­lar to this a year ago, dur­ing a time when we had some re­ally aw­ful events hap­pen­ing in Mary­land and across the coun­try,” Guy said. “We still have is­sues that are bring­ing more at­ten­tion to the racial di­vi­sion and big­otry within the coun­try. I felt that this was a very timely topic for us, but it’s dif­fi­cult to find some­one who is a leader and can present a topic without stir­ring up emo­tions and mak­ing peo­ple feel like they’re be­ing os­tra­cized. But Iyer has a lo­cal per­spec­tive as far as what’s hap­pen­ing in our com­mu­nity and could present a re­ally com­pe­tent well-formed ar­gu­ment about why we need di­a­logue on racial equal­ity.”

Iyer con­veyed to the au­di­ence how South Asian com­mu­ni­ties have demon­strated their sol­i­dar­ity with black com­mu­ni­ties by stand­ing with them in ad­dress­ing the anti-black racism. She said the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment is not only fo­cused on law en­force­ment vi­o­lence but also in ar­eas across the board, such as hous­ing, ed­u­ca­tion, job ac­cess and life.

Sikh, Mus­lims, Ara­bic and South Asian im­mi­grants have sup­ported those is­sues and move­ments for the last 15 years and as the move­ment builds, it is break­ing down class and cul­tural di­vi­sion in com­mu­ni­ties ev­ery­where, Iyer said.

Charles County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers’ Pres­i­dent Peter F. Mur­phy (D) at­tended the dis­cus­sion and said he was in­spired by Iyer’s pas­sion and de­vo­tion to rais­ing aware­ness about racial equal­ity.

“I was very pleased to see a young per­son in­vested in broad­en­ing the dis­cus­sion on racial equal­ity and al­though much of her mes­sage has al­ready been out there for decades, it was re­ally re­fresh­ing to get it from her per­spec­tive,” Mur­phy said. “I think this dis­cus­sion is a nice start and as Charles County grows and the de­mo­graph­ics change and it does get more di­verse, then we need to have more of th­ese dis­cus­sions. I hope that the lo­cal res­i­dents in at­ten­dance will take this back to their in­di­vid­ual com­mu­ni­ties and at some point take this from con­ver­sa­tion to real solid ac­tion.”


Deepa Iyer, au­thor of “We Too Sing Amer­ica: South Asian, Arab, Mus­lim, and Sikh Im­mi­grants Shape Our Mul­tira­cial Fu­ture,” led a dis­cus­sion at Wal­dorf West Li­brary on Tues­day about racial equal­ity for mi­nori­ties in the United States.

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